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COMMUNITY VOICE: ‘Leaving it alone’ should not be option

By Anne Cockrell

 

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following e-mail was sent to Danville City Council members).  

Gentlemen: 

You truly have a huge toxic mess to deal with regarding Sunday’s (Feb. 2) coal ash spill into the Dan River.  I can appreciate the seriousness of the spill, as I, and many, many others, have spent the last six-plus years trying to prevent a potential spill from ever occurring near the headwaters of the Roanoke and Banister Rivers, namely from the proposal to mine and mill uranium. 

I truly do appreciate your pushing Duke Energy President Paul Newton for answers at the public meeting held last Friday (Feb. 7). 

I was unable to attend this meeting, but I did read some of the reported commentary. 

What is so disturbing to me is to learn Newton stated that “making it right” might be to “leave it alone” and that the water is “safe before and after the filtration system.”

Question by Councilman Lee Vogler: What does “making it right mean?” That depends on what is best for the environment, Newton responded. It may be to leave it alone or dredge it.

Questions: Is the water safe? “It is safe before and after the filtration system,” Newton said. He said he drank the water, and “It tasted great. I’m not concerned about the drinking water in Danville, Virginia.

http://www.godanriver.com/news/danville/duke-energy-we-apologize/article_8422ad92-9021-11e3-804e-001a4bcf6878.html  Duke Energy: ‘We apologize.’  (Danville Register & Bee, Feb. 7) 

“Leaving it alone” should not be an option.  The fact that highly toxic coal ash (a volume large enough to fill up 32 Olympic-sized swimming pools) has spilled into and polluted the Dan River should make for a carefully addressed and closely monitored environmental issue.  

That conveyed, I do realize it will take time for the completion of environmental assessments to determine the amount of damage done to the Dan River’s ecosystem and a future game plan developed to get remediation underway.  Just, please don’t take Duke Energy’s assurances that the Dan River’s water is “safe” to consume. 

Financially, it’s in Duke Energy’s best interests to say everything is A-OKAY with the river.  The pictures of the coal ash sludge on the riverbanks and everything it comes in contact with tells me otherwise. 

And I do realize the city is doing its own water testing, but how complete are those tests?  What compounds are being tested for?  Where are the water samples being taken?  At the water treatment plant or other source sites?  (I understand there are four sites.)  http://www.danville-va.gov/index.aspx?NID=676 

Does Duke Energy know what the long-term consequences will be for the Dan River, its ecosystem and the human and animal creatures using it for drinking water?  At least the citizens of Danville will get filtered water.  The fish and other creatures won’t fare so well.         

I believe every effort should be made to remove the toxic slime residue off the Dan’s riverbanks and hauled somewhere other than the source point of contamination.  This action should be repeated as often as necessary. 

The source point of the contamination (in Eden, N.C.) should be removed as soon as possible, too.  It is an unstable coal ash repository that was noted to be unsafe years ago.  Please push for its removal to prevent another spill from occurring in the future. 

I don’t know what the answer is regarding the removal of the coal ash sludge out of the Dan River, but I suspect Newton would love to just leave this mess at the bottom of the river-- you know, let time and Mother Nature take care of this toxic spill.

I feel Duke Energy will look for the cheapest way to deal with the “cleanup.”  And it seems “the experts” will come in and call the shots, as far as Newton is concerned.  Let’s be sure these experts are not at the beck and call of Duke Energy.  

Question: Can the Dan River really be cleaned up? 

I beg you to see that every effort is made to make sure the cleanup is done as expediently and completely as possible.  And if it takes years to get this right, then so be it-- the citizens of Danville (and beyond) deserve to have safe drinking water.  Please see that Duke Energy makes good on its assertion that it’ll be here for as long as it takes, in order to cleanup its mess. 

Bottled water should be brought in for city residents — any resident/business that feels its drinking water has been compromised or is now suspect — at Duke Energy’s expense.  

Again, has the city’s drinking water been tested for an exhaustive list of heavy metals?  What are all the compounds?  Do they include radionuclides?  I ask this because the burning of coal (as was done at the now closed plant, adjacent to the spill) creates residuals that are radioactive.  Even in trace amounts, these contaminants can build up over time in the body and cause problems later (sometimes decades later), which is usually the case with ingested/inhaled radioactive particles.  

For that reason, I really question whether children should now be allowed to drink from Danville’s water supply.

From the website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:   

Burning coal in boilers to create steam for power generation and industrial applications produces a number of combustion residuals. Naturally radioactive materials that were in the coal mostly end up in fly ash, bottom ash and boiler slag. These residuals are called TENORM--Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials--because burning removes the coal’s organic constituents, concentrating the trace amounts of naturally occurring radionuclides: uranium, thorium, potassium, their radioactive decay products including radium. (The amount of radium in coal can vary by more than two orders of magnitude depending upon the type of coal and where it was mined.)

http://www.epa.gov/radiation/tenorm/coalandcoalash.html

Gentlemen, I am no expert on the cleanup of toxic sludge spills, but I beg of you to be vigilant and proactive in getting the Dan River back to the way it should be.  It’s been said the Dan River is an economic draw to future businesses.  If so, this “economic draw” has just suffered a setback.  

The Dan River’s life-sustaining flowing water has been severely compromised and may require years, maybe decades, to return to its former baseline.  Please do everything you can to ensure the Dan River is returned to at least its baseline state.  Please do everything you can to ensure the health and well being of Danvillians are maintained.  

  

Anne Cockrell lives in Danville.